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EN 101: The Process of Writing

Types of Sources

Different types of sources serve different purposes in your research. You might start with a brief encyclopedia article (a reference source), then move onto a news article (a popular source), and then look for an in-depth research article (a scholarly source). This page gives definitions and examples of each source type. 

Reference Sources

A reference source gives brief information about a topic. This information might be a definition, like in a dictionary, or an overview of a subject or term, like in an encyclopedia. A reference source is useful to learn background information, understand basic ideas about a topic, or to get information like names and dates. 

The library has many subject-specific reference books, both in print and online. Here are a few examples of online reference entries about college entrance exams (which is the example topic throughout this guide): 





in Gale Encyclopedia of

Children's Health




"Standardized Tests"

in Encyclopedia of Race and


Popular Sources

Popular sources are written for the general public, and include news media and magazines. These sources take many forms online. 

Characteristics of popular sources: 

  • Written for the general public
  • Relatively short articles.
  • Cover a wide range of topics.
  • Some articles might be mostly informational.
  • Some articles are written to argue a specific perspective. 
  • The author is typically a professional writer, and is usually not an expert in the subject.
  • Might include interviews with experts or people who have specific experiences.
  • May include photos or illustrations. 
  • Reviewed by an editor.


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Brittney Griner and Her Fight for Freedom Cover TIME Magazine

The library provides full-text access to articles from many popular sources. Here are a few examples of articles from major newspapers about college entrance exams: 

Scholarly Sources

Scholarly sources are also called "peer-reviewed" or "academic" sources. Academic libraries provide access to scholarly sources for students and faculty. 

Characteristics of scholarly sources:

  • Usually a report of original research done by the author(s). 
  • Written by scholars and professional researchers.
  • Reviewed by other scholars and researchers in the same field - this is the peer-review process.
  • Written primarily for other professionals, scholars, and researchers - but also important for students!
  • Articles are longer, in-depth, and refer to other research with citations.

American Journal of Education cover

Cover of American Journal of Education

Arts Education Policy Review: Vol 123, No 2

Cover of Arts Education Policy Review


Here are examples of academic articles about college entrance exams: